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Hugelkultur bed in warm climate

 
Posts: 7
Location: So Cal, zone 9b, 8500 sq ft urban lot
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Will hugelkultur beds work in warm climates? I live in So Cal. Would it be better to dig about 1 foot down to start? But, then I would be disturbing the soil where there is already nice worms. I was thinking of only making them about 3 ft tall instead of 5-6 feet tall because I am afraid they would dry out. Taller would be better for me though, because I have back problems. I do have greywater from my laundry machine to make the wood moist to start. What if the wood was from a recently chopped down tree instead of rotten wood? I wanted to do a hugelkultur bed because we have water restrictions and I thought it would need less irrigation.
 
pollinator
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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I found the hugel dried out in my warm, dry climate. So I tried buried wood instead and it has worked well, though I still need to irrigate a bit in order to grow a normal vegetable garden, but nothing like I used to have to do before I buried wood: https://permies.com/t/52077/hugelkultur/Buried-Wood-Beds

 
Jazzy Paulson
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Tyler, Do you mean burying everything so that the garden bed is flat with the surrounding dirt?
 
Tyler Ludens
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Yes, in my experience only the wood below the level of the surrounding soil remains moist.

 
Tyler Ludens
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I've been thinking about this more, and I think the key is the size of the hugelkultur.  My above-ground hugelkultur were, in my opinion, super NOT BIG ENOUGH.  And my buried wood beds aren't deep enough because of a rock shelf down there, so they're more or less a giant container garden.  If I ever have the energy in the future, I want to try to make the giant size hugelkultur that Paul indicates is the real deal.  But I will have to make it by hand, so, it is daunting.  I haven't given up on the idea, because I don't see why it wouldn't work if the pile is big enough.
 
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Ive been thinking the very same thing. I, too, have used the buried wood bed technique - although I'm lucky to be able to dig down deeper than you are able to, Tyler. But I think that most above ground hugelkultur beds 'fail' because they are too small. I agree that they need to be quite large, both in height and width, to be able to withstand drought. I believe they would work if they were big enough. And that's why above ground hugelkultur beds seem to 'fail' when people build them 'garden bed size'. Go big, or go deep. That seems to be the trick.
 
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Like you, I'm in So. Cal.

My hugelkulture mound is 3 years old now, and this is the first year where I've seen it live up to its potential.  As you suggested, I started by digging down a foot and burying the first layer of wood well below grade.  It was mostly palm -- very fiber-y and soft.  After 3 seasons, it's breaking down and filled with fungi and worms.

I think if I could do it over again, I'd go a bit deeper when I built it -- maybe 2 feet deep.  And I'd make it wider rather than so steep.  Make it like a table, about 2 feet tall and 4 or 5 feet across the top.  That way you don't have soil washing down the sides of it when you water it.

 
Tyler Ludens
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Marco Banks wrote: when you water it.



I thought the idea is you don't need to water it.

 
Marco Banks
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Tyler Ludens wrote:

Marco Banks wrote: when you water it.



I thought the idea is you don't need to water it.



We don't get rain from Feb. till November.  We've got to water everything here, including deep rooted trees.  But the key is that we don't have to water it as much.  I suppose that if we lived in a place where you get a rain storm twice a month, you wouldn't have to worry about watering, but the last storm was almost 5 months ago and the next storm is still months away.

I've got water loving plants growing on mine, including watermelon.  The melons are absolutely huge this year and are taking over a massive space under all my citrus trees.  
 
Tyler Ludens
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I know about long dry seasons! (and I used to live in Los Angeles) But hugelkultur is promoted as a way to garden without irrigation, even in the desert.  I'd love to see some examples of it in a warm climate, but so far I don't know of any.
 
Jazzy Paulson
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I was able to do one buried wood bed and it was very successful.  I planted one yellow tomato in it that got to be about 6 feet tall.  I only watered it 3-4 times the whole summer, and we had a string of very hot weeks this year.  I can't wait to do another bed!  It was a lot of digging, so I just made the bed flat.  I would like to do a sunken hugelkultur bed now that there are some rains, I could get the wood soaked.  There may be some worm activity there but I think the soil is generally very hard clay.  I hate to interrupt what the worms are doing.
 
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I'm gonna add another report of year three being the deciding year for a hugel. We dug down till we hit bedrock (12 - 18 inches) and then mounded the wood approx five feet (about my shoulder height above ground, and I'm 5'5"). This year we had artichoke and asparagus survive the whole year on rainwater. We did have a really wet spring, but the fall rains were slow to appear. Relatively drought tolerant plants, but no watering at all.
 
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I once did huegelbeds on the top of the surface because I cannot dig down, we have fill.So I basically made a sheet mulch bed with the wood underneath. Needless to say it was terrible it dried out in no time at all.
I still do my sheet mulch beds or something similar. But I try to organise as much woodchips as I can which is very difficult and fill the paths in between with woodchips.
 
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Ours is going quite nicely. But it does need cover mulch to help assist with getting the longer term cover crops established. We've not watered ours. its about 6 ft tall and about 1.5m wide at the base

We've had a heap of rain int he last 24 hours, so if I can get some early enough i'll spread some more mulch over it after we so some summer green manures. We didn't start the bed at an ideal time of year, so its been a bit hard getting things established.

Potatoes are going ape, brassica awesome, same with arrowroot

 
Tyler Ludens
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Casie Becker wrote:Relatively drought tolerant plants, but no watering at all.



Super excellent!  
 
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I would have to agree with pretty much everything that was said above.  Go big upwards and outwards, or go below ground.  If you are in a really dry place, consider solar exposure, and evaporation and align your beds to minimize these  

If you choose to go big, go really big.  If you choose to go big, put a flattish top on it, with a trench of sorts in the center.  If you have access to water to establish the bed, put a drip line in the trench, and mulch over it, if not mulch it as much as possible.  If you are irrigating, do so at night in this top mulched trench.  If not irrigating, build the mound before the rains, and/or consider not planting it until it is going to rain.

 Mulch, Mulch, Mulch.    

Take a look at The permaculture Superpower of Berms and This thread about a desert property with a hill
 
Peter Kalokerinos
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Roberto pokachinni wrote:consider solar exposure, and evaporation and align your beds to minimize these    The permaculture Superpower of Berms and This thread about a desert property with a hill



The issue we had with this was if we did that, it was counter to the wind and we needed the hugel as a dual purpose wind break.....its a shame we can't do it all in an ideal sense!

 
Roberto pokachinni
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The issue we had with this was if we did that, it was counter to the wind and we needed the hugel as a dual purpose wind break.....its a shame we can't do it all in an ideal sense!

 yes.  I agree.  I don't know the specifics of your project, but think that in general, in a dry climate, using a hugulkultur as a windbreak would so greatly increase it's surface evaporation and plant body transpiration that it would defeat having the mound be a hugulkultur, and might be better to establish this feature as a berm.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I think it's possible the leeward side would remain moist.  Perhaps the windward side could be covered with rocks, if available, to help preserve moisture.  Or large cactus such as Prickly Pear.  These cactus will send out very long roots to obtain moisture.  I'm presently moving a large pile of woodchips which is beside a big Prickly Pear.  The pile is full of tremendous cactus roots.

 
Roberto pokachinni
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Perhaps the windward side could be covered with rocks, if available, to help preserve moisture.  Or large cactus such as Prickly Pear.

Good thinking Tyler. The rocks and cactus might also condense water to give some moisture back to the mound, particularly if the rocks are not sun-ward facing (which would increase heat/drying to the bed in a warm climate...).
 
 
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